NEW YORK -- Baseball is a nine-inning game. At least it is to everyone besides the New York Yankees, who have turned America's Pastime into a six- or seven-inning contest.
|Mariano Rivera has converted 22 consecutive postseason save opportunities.
Mike Stanton and Mariano Rivera have had more success in the World Series than any two pitchers in baseball history (minimum 10 games), teaming up for a 1.17 ERA in a combined nine Fall Classics. That's no small sampling; that's a proven commodity.
"Their experience is very important," Torre said. "They're used to -- and have had success under -- that kind of pressure. Sure, you expect them to succeed every time they go out there, but having that experience and success means a lot to me, because it makes my decision a lot easier to make a pitching change. And you can throw Ramiro Mendoza in there, even though his numbers don't stand out there with the other two."
Mendoza has joined Stanton and Rivera to form a trio that terrifies opposing managers. As dominating as Rivera has been this postseason, Mendoza has matched him pitch-for-pitch. Both of them have thrown 9 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run apiece for a miniscule 0.93 ERA. Stanton's 2001 playoff ERA is a bloated 4.76, but if you take away his outing in New York's 14-3 loss to Seattle in Game 3 (1/3 inning, 3 ER), he has not allowed a run in any of his other four appearances.
"It's comforting any time you can get them in a game," said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. "The object is to get them in a game when it's still on the line, and if it is, you feel real good about it. It's not an automatic, but I'd put my bullpen against any in the Majors."
Stanton is the all-time World Series ERA leader at 1.02, while Rivera, the 1999 Series MVP, ranks second with a 1.31 mark. Their presence in the bullpen allows New York's starters to go all-out for six or seven innings, knowing that the trio will be there to pick them up at the end of the ballgame.
"It makes it very easy, knowing that if you have a strong outing, the game is going to be over," said Andy Pettitte. "There is no better feeling, knowing you can turn the game over to them. You give it everything you've got for as long as you can, not worrying about saving anything up for a big out in the eighth inning."
Yankees GM Brian Cashman made moves this season to strengthen New York's bullpen, adding Jay Witasick and Mark Wohlers to take the load off of Stanton, Mendoza and Rivera. The two new additions pitched well at times over the second half of the season, but have not earned Torre's trust enough to put them into key spots in postseason games.
Witasick, a starter over his first two full seasons in the Majors, says that the Yankees' bullpen should be the model upon which all bullpens are built.
"This is what bullpens are supposed to be like," Witasick said. "It's like there is a light switch down there. When the phone rings, it becomes instantaneous business, then it becomes game mode, and we're locked in and focused. You can be talking to someone, and mid-conversation, if the phone rings, even if no one starts warming up, you almost forget what you were talking about a minute ago. Everyone just locks in."
Rivera, who is known to sleep in the clubhouse until about the sixth inning on most days, is in the midst of one of the most remarkable runs in history. Since 1997, when he blew a save in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians, Rivera has converted 22 consecutive postseason save opportunities. In that span, the Yankees have won 11 straight playoff series, and are one away from winning their fourth title in a row.
"I don't ever think about losing," Rivera said. "If it happens, it happens, but I don't ever think about it. We're a winning team, and winners don't think about losing. You have to think like a winner."
Mike Mussina marvels at what Rivera has been able to accomplish.
"I'm still trying to figure out how he does it with one pitch," Mussina said. "He comes in to such big spots, and any time Joe asks him to go in, he's ready, even if he threw two innings the day before or hasn't pitched in five days. He's asked to do amazing things and he comes through."
That one pitch, by the way, is a cut fastball. The difference between Rivera's cutter and everyone else's is the combination of speeds and movement that he gets, giving it the appearance of many different pitches. His opponents know exactly what he is going to throw, yet few have been able to beat him.
"The speed makes my cutter effective," Rivera said. "It's a great pitch. I've seen guys throw cutters with less speed, and it gives the hitter more time to react. With me, there isn't much time."
The Yankees' bullpen has been the biggest contributor to this latest dynasty. That's not to say that Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and the rest of the lineup hasn't done its share, but the bullpen has had the final word in every series.
"You can't win a game unless you finish it, and Mo finishes better than anyone has ever done," Torre said. "He's like a regular player for me. They list players and pitchers separately, but Mariano Rivera is like an everyday player for me."
"If you look at the teams that are in the playoffs, pitching is the key," said Paul O'Neill. "You can't out-slug people every night. That might be fun for fans to watch, and the baseball cards on those teams look great, but the teams that win are the ones with great pitching. It used to be starting pitching, when Atlanta had that great staff. Now, it's starting pitching plus a great bullpen. That started with Mariano and John Wetteland, then Mo, Stanton and Jeff Nelson. You look at Seattle, they have Nelson, Arthur Rhodes and Kaz Sasaki. This formula has been successful."
If anyone can attest to that success, it's O'Neill, who won a World Series in 1990 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. That Reds team featured a trio called "The Nasty Boys," the three-headed relief monster made up of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers. That may have been the first great bullpen of this generation, and the model after which the Yankees built their own pen.
"The 1990 Reds bullpen was kind of a fluke," O'Neill said. "Charlton was a starter, Dibble was throwing balls at the backstop and Myers was traded over. All of a sudden, Charlton found his niche in the bullpen, Dibble became the most dominant pitcher I'd ever seen. Add Myers, and those three guys caught everyone's attention. There was no finesse about it, they just blew guys away."
That's exactly what the Yankees' trio has done this postseason. Wohlers, a one-time World Series-winning closer with the Braves, says that Stanton and Rivera have had such success on the game's biggest stage because they treat it like any other game.
"Where other guys may build it up, they keep it small," Wohlers said. "Keeping it simple is the approach that has made them effective. Some hitters and pitchers might think they have to do more in the World Series, they know they just have do what they do all year to be successful. Others put more pressure on themselves that those guys don't. They trust their stuff, and that's a huge part of it."
Rivera knows that losing is a part of baseball, and while he has tasted defeat in the regular season (he blew seven of his 57 save opportunities this season), he said he doesn't get nervous on the mound, no matter how big the game may be.
"I'm human," Rivera said. "But when I'm pitching, it's not time to get nervous, especially in the playoffs or World Series. I just throw my stuff and try to do my best. I've been beaten before, so anything can happen."
Rivera may believe that he is human, but he'd have a hard time convincing some of his teammates that there is blood -- not ice -- flowing through his veins. Rivera has made closing playoff games look so easy at times, it will be a shock to everyone in pinstripes when he fails to convert one.
"When he comes in, it's over," said Derek Jeter. "I don't want to jinx him and say he's unhittable, but when he comes in with a lead, you bring in Mo and the game is over. That's a weapon not many teams have."
"It's a comforting feeling, especially when you have a lead," said Witasick. "I have only been in two bullpens, with Mo and Trevor Hoffman. When I heard 'Hell's Bells' in San Diego, and now when I hear 'Enter Sandman' here, you have this feeling that we'll be celebrating in a few minutes."
Neither Stanton nor Rivera can explain their tremendous postseason success. They just plan on continuing to do what they do, trying to keep the Yankees on top of the baseball world.
"I don't know why Mariano and I have had so much success in the World Series," Stanton said. "It's a situation where we've just been blessed to make quality pitches in big games."
"It's the Yankee mystique I guess," Rivera said. "All I can tell you is we fight hard for the close games, we make good pitches and our hitters wait for the right pitch."
Mark Feinsand is the site reporter for Yankees.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.